Andrea Batista Schlesinger
Don’t Give Lou Dobbs a License to Kill Spitzer’s Drivers License Bill
Lou Dobbs is at it again. His target this time? Governor Eliot Spitzer and his plan to provide drivers licenses to New Yorkers regardless of their citizenship.
In developing your own opinion on the Governor’s proposal consider this: If, like Lou Dobbs, you believe political pandering that exploits fear should be used to stall a much-needed conversation about immigration policy, you should join his knee-jerk opposition to Governor Spitzer’s plan. But if you want a common-sense approach that follows the lead of eight other states and would make New York’s people and streets safer, go with the Governor.
Washington's failure to achieve consensus on an immigration bill should not obscure the fact that commonsense immigration laws have strong majority support. Americans believe it is neither feasible nor desirable to deport the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently here. Instead, there is consensus in favor of providing a path to citizenship for immigrants of all kinds who learn English, work hard, and participate in the American system. Unfortunately, the anti-immigrant sentiment fostered by Dobbs and his ilk kept Washington from pursuing it.
Some local political leaders have followed Lou Dobbs’ lead in trying to harness anti-immigrant sentiments to increase their popularity. As was reported recently in The New York Times, towns like Riverside, New Jersey, who have chosen this anti-immigrant path, now stare at their empty main streets and wonder who exactly their policies were designed to benefit and how they went so terribly wrong.
Governor Spitzer, on the other hand, knows that the country needs real solutions that will bring immigrants into our system. To that end, he proposed reviving a pre-2004 policy that offered licenses to competent drivers regardless of their immigration status. In so doing, he is following the lead of numerous other states that issue driver’s licenses based on ability to drive – not immigration status. Governor Spitzer’s proposal will keep our streets and communities safer by reducing the number of unlicensed, untrained drivers on our roads and dramatically lowering the number of people who lack verifiable ID. This policy will, not insignificantly, enable the immigrants of New York State to live normal lives by being able to drive to work, pick up their groceries, take their children to school, and do all of the other things we take for granted.
Unfortunately, Lou Dobbs, ever in search of higher ratings, went on the attack, exploiting New Yorkers’ understandable fears about terrorism by presenting immigrants as a security risk. The truth is that New Yorkers and all Americans have a stake in the implementation of practical immigration policies because the American middle class relies on the economic contributions of immigrants – be they legal or illegal. Immigrants are consumers and taxpayers. They are entrepreneurs. They provide the services that native-born Americans rely on from morning until night. They resuscitate struggling neighborhoods. They keep our Social Security system solvent. They are not terrorists.
It is not xenophobic for Americans to worry about the impact of illegal immigration on their livelihoods and communities, but the best way to address that is to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows. When immigrants are treated as if they are beneath the law, everyone suffers. This is especially true in the workforce, where the presence of workers without any rights brings down the wages and workplace conditions of American workers and makes it difficult for law-abiding business to compete.
We also need to protect Americans on the roads. We want drivers who have demonstrated their ability to drive to the State. We want drivers with insurance. Even so, it is understandable that some questions and concerns would arise from Spitzer’s proposal. What impact does this plan have on our security as a nation? Will this policy render drivers licenses null and void? How will this policy impact the ability of native-born Americans to do things like board a plane and enter office buildings? These are precisely the questions responsible political leaders should be asking and debating.
But not all have. Instead, some elected officials like James N. Tedisco, the minority leader of the New York State Assembly, are making provocative pronouncements like this one: “Osama bin Laden is somewhere in a cave with his den of thieves and terrorists, and he’s probably sabering the cork on some Champagne right now, saying ‘Hey, that governor’s really assisting us.’” Assemblyman Tedisco strains credibility when he insinuates that somehow the 12 million illegal immigrants living in America are terrorists working for Al Qaeda. But he did get his name in the papers, and the New York State Senate has just passed legislation that would overturn the Governor’s policy.
When I hear misguided sentiments like that Assemblyman Tedisco’s, I know that it is Lou Dobbs who is actually swilling the Champagne. This kind of talk may boost ratings for him and his junior varsity imitators, but if we let it be a substitute for real debate, the joke will be on all Americans.